The best of the best

 Posted by at 11:29 PM  Add comments
Mar 142012

Many of my readers know that I’m a big fan of soccer, in part because of the game itself, but also because of the numerous international competitions they have. The UEFA Champions League is one of the best tournaments in the world, and the final regularly draws in over 175 million viewers. It is absolutely the best tournament to determine the best league and the best team in the world. Who wouldn’t want to watch Leo Messi and Barca taking on Liverpool, Bayern Munchen, PSG, Ajax, Inter, or any top European club?

So, needless to say, I got really excited when I heard that Rene Fasel and the IIHF are looking into reviving an international competition that will feature the best clubs in the world, closely mirroring the short-lived Champions Hockey League

Let’s stop bickering about which European league is the best, or if the NHL trumps all. The 2011 NHL Premiere Challenge featured the Ducks, Rangers, Kings, and Sabres facing off against European clubs. Although the NHL clubs won their games, it wasn’t a good indicator of level of play, since the NHL teams weren’t dressing their regulars and only EV Zug and Jokerit were considered top clubs in their respective leagues.

There’s no lack of rivalries here either – remember that the KHL teams really took the exhibition games seriously, and when SKA Saint Petersburg played against the Hurricanes, there were real concerns about player safety after Paul Maurice implied that St. Petersburg was head-hunting and deliberately targeting Eric Staal. Alexander Medvedev, the president of the KHL (who also sits on the board of directors for Gazprom, which was the main sponsor for the Champions Hockey League before pulling out of their commitments, which then ultimately led to the league’s demise), has often been vocal about the high quality of play in Russia.

If the NHL and the IIHF were ever to establish a league like the Champions League, what would it look like?

Ideally, the league would have 20 teams: one each from the Slovak and Czech leagues, two each from Germany and Switzerland, three each from Sweden and Finland, then four from the KHL and NHL. Like in soccer, teams will be eligible based only on regular season standings and not playoff finishes. For the 2010-11 season, the table (to use a soccer term), would’ve looked something like this:

1. HC Kosice, Slovak Extraliga (48-6-3, .842)
2. HC Davos, Swiss National League A (38-8-4, .760)
3. HC Kloten, Swiss National League A (38-9-3, .760)
4. JYP Jyvaskyla, SM-liiga (43-13-4, .717)
5. Assat Pori, SM-liiga (41-12-7, .683)
6. Vancouver Canucks, NHL (54-19-9, .659)
7. Lokomotiv Yaroslav, KHL (35-14-5, .648)
8. Skelleftea AIK, Elitserien (34-18-3, .618)
9. HIFK Helsinki, SM-liiga (37-11-12, .617)
10. DEG Metro Stars, Deutsche Eishockey Liga (32-17-3, .615)
11. HV71, Elitserien (33-16-6, .600)
12. Farjestad BK, Elitserien (33-19-3, .600)
13. Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL (49-25-8, .598)
14. EHC Wolfsburg, Deutsche Eishockey Liga (31-13-8, .596)
15. HC Trinec, Czech Extraliga (31-13-8, .596)
16. SKA Saint Petersburg, KHL (32-13-9, .593)
17. Atlant Mytishchi, KHL (32-16-6, .593)
18. Washington Capitals, NHL (48-23-11, .585)
19. Philadelphia Flyers, NHL (47-23-12, .573)
20. Dynamo Moscow, KHL (30-16-8, .556)

(European leagues count OTW and SOW in a separate category. For the sake of simplicity I’ve combined it with W. Teams are listed in order of winning percentage. Even though the top three teams have other-worldly winning percentages, keep in mind that the Slovak and Swiss leagues aren’t known for their parity. For example, the worst team in the Slovak Extraliga last year, HK Orange 20, was more of a development team with players under 20 and played games only on Fridays and Saturdays. The team won two games all year.)

HC Kosice won three straight championships from 2009-2011, backstopped by 23-year-old netminder Julius Hudacek, who has never posted a SV% below .936 in the playoffs. His GAA during that time was 1.59, 2.00, and 1.25. Hudacek is now playing for Sodertalje in HockeyAllsvenskan, a tier below Elitserien. He’s posted seven shutouts already this season. Hudacek is unsigned and undrafted…

Two years ago, the Bruins and JYP Jyvaskyla entered a partnership to transfer players and share scouting reports. Not sure if the partnership still exists today…

For this season, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is playing in the VHL, Russia’s second-highest league, following the tragic plane crash. Lokomotiv will re-join the KHL next year and automatically qualifies for the playoffs…

Skelleftea was led by by Joakim Lindstrom, Mikko Lehtonen, and David Rundblad, who finished 1-2-3 in league scoring. Lindstrom signed with the Avs at the beginning of the season but was waived in November and has since returned to Skelleftea. Rundblad, one of the NHL’s highly-regarded prospects, is playing in Phoenix’s system, and will one day form a dynamic pair with Oliver Ekman-Larsson…

HIFK and Jokerit are both based out of Helsinki, and when the two squads meet the games are often sold out. Tim Thomas backstopped HIFK to the league title in 1998. Little known fact: after winning the league title, Thomas signed with the Oilers, and after being assigned to the AHL, he left and re-joined HIFK for the 1998-99 season…

EHC Wolfsburg’s nickname is Grizzly Adams, and yes, they are named after the famous Charles Sellier, Jr. novel

Atlant was the team Ray Emery played for during his short stint in Russia, which was rife with controversy. Emery claimed that the wrong exchange rate had been used all year, and the weak Russian ruble means he’s been collecting just two-thirds of what was promised to him…

The official name for Dynamo Moscow is actually UHC Dynamo, which stands for “United Hockey Club, after the team was merged with HC MVD. The original KGB-backed Dynamo Moscow was one of Russia’s most storied franchises, and produced Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin…

  3 Responses to “The best of the best”

  1. So after all that, who wins? My money would be on the Canucks, Flyers (of last year, not this year). or Yaroslav (again, from last year.)

    I really like the idea of a hockey “champs league” but do not think that the NHL would ever allow their teams do take part. Gary Bettman has generally been very supportive of growing the game globally, but the caveat is that the NHL must also experience significant benefit. I am sure that the NHL suits would insist on a large portion of the profits. Meanwhile the IIHF would also try and find a way to make money off of the event. Maybe one day we can experience a tournament like this, but I fear we need to see several new faces in positions of power before this type of event can be realized.

  2. The NHL is still the dominant league, but who wins the tournament is anybody’s guess. NHL teams are at a huge disadvantage because of their gruelling schedule. My money’s on the Canucks, Skelleftea, or Yaroslavl. The Canes really had trouble adjusting to the game atmosphere when they played St. Petersburg.

    The NHL would be looking for much of the corporate profits. My concern is to where the money that’s given out to winners comes from. The purse has to be of a significant size for NHL teams to take part in. The risk of injury and high travel costs have to be considered too. It’s obviously a political issue – I don’t think players will have any problems with it.

  3. I think players would love it, it could also replace the World Championships, which while are big in Europe are… well… kind of lame. I would watch every single game of this tourney. I do not think there would be a particularly large shortage of funds.

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